Who has played Helen in All Creatures Great and Small and where are they now?

Several different actors have played the role of Helen in All Creatures Great and Small, from the original TV show to the Channel 5 reboot

James and Helen in All Creatures Great and Small
(Image credit: Channel 5/Viacom)

Several actors have played Helen in All Creatures Great and Small over the years and fans of either the original TV show, reboot series or both might be curious about where they are now.

There’s nothing quite so comforting as settling down to watch your favourite cosy TV show and the nostalgic feel of All Creatures Great and Small has given it enduring popularity over the years. The fourth season of the Channel 5 reboot series finished airing in the UK in November and had fans wondering if they'd see Mrs Hall leaving All Creatures Great and Small, but fans were treated to an extra special festive episode to keep them going as they hope for confirmation of a season 5. 

Based on the book series by Alf Wright, written under his pen name James Herriot, one character who makes a particular impression across all the adaptations is Helen Alderson, later Herriot - the eventual wife of vet James Herriot. She’s been played by different actors and we have all the details about who they are.

Who's played Helen in All Creatures Great and Small and where are they now? 

Who played Helen in All Creatures Great and Small (1978 TV show)

Carol Drinkwater

Some fans of Channel 5’s popular reboot of the original 1978 All Creatures Great and Small TV show won't necessarily remember the original Helen Herriot who was played by Carol Drinkwater. Carol was part of the cast for the first three seasons but chose to leave as Helen in All Creatures Great and Small in 1985 after appearing in over 40 episodes. When it comes to the reason for her sad departure, it seems that Carol had been starting to think about leaving around the time she met her husband Michel as she felt that there wasn’t enough scope to take Helen’s story further.

All Creatures Great and Small

(Image credit: BritBox)
All Creatures Great and Small: The Classic Memoirs of a Yorkshire Country by James Herriot | Was £10.99, Now £9.19 at Amazon

All Creatures Great and Small: The Classic Memoirs of a Yorkshire Country by James Herriot | Was £10.99, Now £9.19 at Amazon

Written under his penname, James Herriot, Alf Wright's memoirs inspired the hit TV shows and this contains the first two If Only They Could Talk and It Shouldn’t Happen to a Vet. Fresh out of veterinary college, James faces plenty of unexpected things, including meeting the daughter of a local farmer, Helen, as he pursues his career in 1930s Yorkshire.

“I was already thinking about leaving because I felt that there was no more stretch for Helen," she previously told The Yorkshire Post in 2021, before adding, "They wanted to stay very strictly to the books, because Alf was alive and at that stage he was quite adamant that they did. And I didn’t feel that there was anywhere else I could take Helen.”

Carol went on to reflect that she’d felt that “unless there was new material” the time had come for her to “move on” from playing Helen in All Creatures Great and Small. She revealed that she’d been “getting lots and lots of offers” due to how “very successful” the drama was. However, Carol also pragmatically expressed her belief that if she could turn back time she wouldn’t necessarily make the decision to leave the role again. 

Carol Drinkwater pictured at the Edinburgh International Book Festival

(Image credit: Photo by Colin McPherson/Corbis via Getty Images)

“Having said that, if I had my time over again, I wouldn’t have left it,” she said. “I feel I could have achieved all the things that I have achieved and continued with the show, but you know, that’s life.”

Her final episode as Helen in All Creatures Great and Small was the 1985 special and following this Carol went on to appear in movie A Clockwork Orange, as well as TV shows Casualty, Peak Practice and Captain James Cook.

Lynda Bellingham

The next actor to play Helen in All Creatures Great and Small was the late Lynda Bellingham OBE who took over as the character from season 4 until the original 1978 show ended with season 7 in 1990. For many people, it’s likely that Lynda was the actor most strongly associated with Helen given her tenure in the drama. She was also well-known for her roles in everything from Doctor Who and Second Thoughts, to the stage production of Calendar Girls and for playing the “Oxo Mum” in the iconic 1980s TV adverts.

Lynda was also a panellist on ITV’s Loose Women and competed on the BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing in 2009. Fans were devastated when it was announced that Lynda Bellingham had very sadly passed away in October 2014 after being diagnosed with cancer in 2013.

Lynda Bellingham attends the BAFTA Television Craft Awards

(Image credit: Photo by Stuart C. Wilson/Getty Images)

During her many years playing Helen on All Things Great and Small, the character was bed-ridden for a time as this was how the show covered up Lynda’s real-life pregnancy. According to IMDB, the storyline involved Helen having a slipped disc in her back and Lynda had a hole cut in the mattress for her to sit in to help disguise her pregnancy. She gave birth to her second son Robbie earlier in 1988, five months before season 5 aired.

Who played Helen in All Creatures Great and Small? (2020 TV show)

Rachel Shenton

Rachel Shenton is the actor who currently plays Helen in All Creatures Great and Small's 2020 reboot series which is broadcast on Channel 5. Fans might also recognise Rachel for her amazing Oscars win for the powerful short film, The Silent Child, in 2018, which she starred in as well as writing and producing it. 

She has played Helen in the Channel 5 reboot of the 1978 drama since it first landed. According to Rachel herself she hadn’t initially watched the original show, but was aware of how much of an impact it had as her mum had been a fan. 

“I was aware of the series. It was before my time, so I'd never seen it, but I knew it was a success,” she told Town&Country. “My mum watched it and some of my family, so there's always that idea of ‘Oh, goodness, these are quite big boots to fill’.”

Rachel Shenton poses in the green room during day two of the BFI & Radio Times Television Festival

(Image credit: Photo by David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images)

She went on to share that she’d read one of the All Creatures Great and Small books “years ago” and that she soon found herself being totally swept away by them

Rachel said, “I'd read one of the books out of order, years ago, so I kind of knew about the world, but obviously I re-read the books in order this time when this part came up and just fell in love with the world that Alf Wight created. But I think there's always pressure [stepping into the part of Helen in the reboot]. There's absolutely pressure because it was so loved.”

Knowing that Helen in All Creatures Great and Small was somewhat inspired by author Alf’s wife, Joan, Rachel revealed that she had the privilege of meeting the couple’s children and doing more research.

“We also had the privilege of meeting Rosie and Jim Wight, who were Alf Wight's children. Wight’s pseudonym was James Herriot. And in meeting the children, actually hearing about them mum from their perspective just gave us a real peek behind the curtain, because in the book, we learn about my character through James,” Rachel said.

She explained that they learnt that Helen was based on “how he feels about” Joan “rather than what she’s like as a woman in her own right, really”. Rachel also mentioned the James Herriot Museum in Yorkshire and how she learnt that Joan was “actually one of the first women in her village to wear trousers”.

Rachel Shenton attends the Women Of The Year Lunch at Intercontinental Hotel on October 15, 2018

(Image credit: Photo by Dave J Hogan/Dave J Hogan/Getty Images)

“I thought that was a really telling bit of information, so I really took that on. And I think it was because she was through and through a practical woman. And now, I've tried to get on those tractors in the middle of winter in Yorkshire and it would be really hard to do in a dress, so of course she's wearing trousers,” she declared.

Who plays Helen in All Creatures Great and Small? (1975 movie)

Lisa Harrow

Carol, Lynda and Rachel are the only three actors who have played Helen in All Creatures Great and Small shows over the years, but there was also a 1975 movie also based on Alf Wright’s book series. It starred Lisa Harrow as Helen alongside Anthony Hopkins as Siegfried Farnon and Simon Ward as James Herriot. 

The movie is understood to have been based on the first two novels and a sequel called It Shouldn’t Happen to a Vet was released a year later, starring the same three main cast members and based on the next two novels.

Lisa Harrow attends the "Sunday" Long Island City Premiere

(Image credit: Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images)

Born in New Zealand, Lisa went to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and has also appeared in the likes of Inspector Morse, Omen III: The Final Conflict and, more recently, The Brokenwood Mysteries.

All Creatures Great and Small seasons 1-4 are available to watch via Channel 5's on-demand service My5. The original 1978 All Creatures Great and Small series can be watched with an ITVX Premium account. 

Emma Shacklock

Emma is a Royal Editor with eight years experience working in publishing. Her specialist areas include the British Royal Family, ranging from protocol to outfits. Alongside putting her royal knowledge to good use, Emma knows all there is to know about the latest TV shows on the BBC, ITV and more. When she’s not writing about the next unmissable show to add to your to-watch list or delving into royal protocol, Emma enjoys cooking, long walks and watching yet more crime dramas!